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Wessex Scene were able to interview Rishi-Nayan Varodaria about their campaign to be the next Union President.
Rishi-Nayan elected to answer these questions during an interview.
Why did you apply for the role of Union President?
I’ve had a varied history throughout my time at university, and I’ve held roles from Academic Rep to Student Trustee to Halls Officer and I think I’ve got a real passion for enacting change for students that has reached a culmination, and I’m at a point where I feel I could really contribute at a time that’s a critical turning point for the university in its standing and reputation. Recent events really spurred me on to make sure that students have a heard and respected voice. I think that I would be a strong candidate for President due to my varied background and the big range of skills that I’ve got and have developed. I’ve got to know a lot of the staff and students across the university and heard so many different voices and it’s time to be able to put that all into action.
If you were elected what would be your top three areas of focus?
Number one would be to empower our student voice, to make sure that our mandate is strong and acted upon by all levels of management at the university, especially with regard to being ignored about in-person exams. As someone working for the NHS that really hit home.
Another thing would be affordability. Students need to be able to have a quality life at university without much demand in terms of expense. So things like the SUSU meal deal that I’ve been pushing for behind the scenes for several years, things like the cooked breakfast in the bridge. These little things make all the difference to the student experience, and I think bringing costs down but increasing the range of food on offer in different places would be really impactful for students.
My third area of focus would be on clubs and societies, so making sure that we have enough resources for our expanding groups and also so that starting groups have enough support behind them to launch successfully. We had a big gap in terms of committees from lockdowns, and making sure that people are inspired to join these committees is vital, and making sure that there is enough funding available too. And I think things such as intramural sports aren’t given enough promotion and actually it is something we should shout about and be proud of. Increasing participation in sport is something close to my heart. Our other activities and groups should be able to make use of our SUSU facilities, and that would also be facilitated through a Wednesday SUSU night, which wouldn’t have to involve alcohol but it would create more of a student buzz to Highfield Campus, and create a more cohesive community.
What’s something that SUSU provides that you like, and what’s something you’d like to potentially alter?
Something it provides that I like would be the advice centre, because there’s so much shared experience there, and I’ve heard of so many positive stories of students that have been struggling, not got the help they need from the university, and have found that with the advice centre. I suppose in conjunction with that is SUSU lettings, and they’re really powerful parts of the organisation that have empowered students and are the envy of other universities. They’re leading from the forefront, providing opportunities and support that you can’t find elsewhere and students are more than happy to go back and re-use them whenever issues pop up in the future.
The thing I think they could work on would be rewarding our society members, our staff. Something I would like to implement would be reintroducing discounts for existing staff and committee members to give them an incentive to get involved with the voluntary side of things. I think the other thing is, to bring it back to affordability, I would look to introduce a loyalty card so that students using our services feel a draw to come back and keep using them, and also to give them some value for money so that it’s not all about spending, there is something given back to us as students.
What do you think are the main problems with the current role of Union President, and how do you propose fixing them?
I don’t think there’s anything done badly, it’s just about facilitating the student voice as much as possible. I think the biggest problem has been engagement, whether that’s with petitions or people running for roles, that’s something I’ve really been pushing for. When I was the Halls Officer, I really worked hard to make sure that people ran for all the different Halls President roles. As a Student Trustee, I have been really pushing every election to make sure people get involved in student politics and student committee roles. I think making sure people understand what is going on and how they can change that is critical. It has been disappointing that drop-ins haven’t been well attended. We should understand why that is and how to make them more engaging, whether that’s through incentives or going out to the students outside lectures or on halls sites, which is something we tried in the past. Reviewing our engagement methods, especially in a post-pandemic world, is something that would be beneficial to the role.
What reassurances can you give students about the importance of their voice?
I’ve been a student, I’ve been a representative and I’ve been in many other roles and shouting on the behalf of young people, whether that’s in scouting, through work or just in my day to day life and I will fight tooth and nail to make sure that every single voice is heard. That includes unpopular opinions, that includes minorities. I think it’s really important that every side of every argument is listened to and I’m really keen to make sure that students shape events that are put on. Students are at the core of decisions that are made and it just follows on from the work that I’ve done as a Student Trustee and in many other hidden roles I’ve taken part in at university such as with the universities academic integrity network, in making sure that assignments are accessible and fair for students and on the university senate as a student representative.
You’ve mentioned having a proven track record. Can you give an example of something you have achieved through these roles?
I think one of my proudest achievements has been through my role in halls, and it was about gaining people’s trust; I was really pleased to win first place and it was then my privilege to fight on behalf of students about changes in halls. Things like moving smoking shelters, changing how punishments were given out in flats so that it didn’t punish multiple people, reviewing the whole of recycling and laundry, and making sure that students in halls were getting value for money. Those achievements were really humbling because in recent years, several years on from the role, I still had students who have approached me and said how they remember me from halls and they remember the events that I put on. That really warms my heart. Similarly, most recently I’ve been working lots giving tours to prospective students and I’ve had some really great moments where students have come up to me and said that it’s because of my passion talking about this university and my pride in our student’s union that they’ve actually decided to come here.
Is there anything else you’d like to say or mention?
I’d say that no matter how small a problem is, students should feel they can come to me and I’m more than happy to take any questions or messages that people might have during this campaign to then be able to take that on board. Vote Rishi No1 for SUSU President on March 2nd, because every vote counts and your voice needs to be heard!